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Redefining 'Having It All'

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By Linda Descano, CFA®, President and CEO, Women & Co. and Managing Director and Head of Digital Partnerships, North America Marketing, Citi

When LinkedIn and Citi set out to create their first-ever study of professional women's biggest financial and career concerns this summer, the "having it all" debate sparked by Anne-Marie Slaughter's essay was fresh on our minds. Why did the article -- and so much of the subsequent media coverage -- revolve around women's struggles to reach the pinnacle of success in their careers while raising happy, well-adjusted kids? Doesn't "having it all" mean different things to different people? And what does it really mean to today's professional women?

Dorothy Callihan, a construction professional and consultant in Tuscon, Arizona, raised a similar question in one of the many discussion threads sparked by the debate on Citi's Connect: Professional Women's Network on LinkedIn: "I think we are always trying to fit into some idealized model career path. Who came up with the ideal scenario?"

According to the results of the survey Citi conducted with LinkedIn on what "having it all" means to women, the vision of success that's on the minds of modern professional women paints a very different picture of that "ideal scenario." Only 17% of women include reaching the height of success in their field in their definition of "having it all." For 27% of women, children are not a factor. For 36% of women, neither is marriage.

What is important? Being in a strong, loving relationship (married or unmarried) came out on top -- with 96% of respondents selecting it as a key component of their version of "having it all." Being financially secure -- having enough money to do and buy what they want -- is a factor for 85%; raising happy, healthy kids is a factor for 73%; and having a job she enjoys and where her work is valued was a factor for 64%.

Generational differences also play a major role in how women view their version of career success. For example, women under 35 are more than twice as likely (26% vs. 11%) than those over 35 to equate "having it all" with reaching the height of success in their field. Women over 35, on the other hand, are more than twice as likely as their younger counterparts to equate it with being their own boss (19% vs. 8%).

Which proves -- as Lillian Lincoln Lambert, the first African-American woman to receive a Harvard MBA, suggested to Connect group members -- your definition of "having it all" can evolve over time as your priorities change. "Sometimes I felt I had it all and sometimes not. For me the important thing was setting priorities and making my decisions based on those priorities." Now the president of LilCo Enterprises, she added, "Whatever decision you make, don't feel guilty about it. You, not an outsider, know what is best for you and your family."

While the study also explored professional women's biggest financial worries (paying off student loans and saving for retirement topped their lists) and their top career concerns (work-life balance, career advancement, and finding the time to network), one of the brightest spots highlights women's optimism about their success.

After survey respondents reviewed the factors that contributed to their definition of "having it all," 96% felt that it was something that they have achieved -- or will someday attain. So while Slaughter's essay raised some very important discussions about the strategies we can employ to navigate the often-competing needs of work and family obligations, her cover line had it all wrong.

When women have the choice to create their own definition of success, we really can have it... ALL.

How do you define success?

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About the Author:
Linda is President and CEO of Women & Co., a service of Citi that brings women relevant financial content and thoughtful commentary. She also serves as a Managing Director and Head of Digital Partnerships for North America Marketing at Citi. A recognized expert on the topic of personal finance, Linda is also the featured contributor on womenandco.com and Manilla.com, for which she serves as their women and money expert. Her writing, tips and commentary have appeared in countless publications including: Huffington Post, MORE Magazine, American Banker and MSN Money to name a few. She is the recipient of a 2011 Luminary Award from Womensphere® and was the New York recipient of the 2009 Corporate w2wlink Ascendancy Award.